This is the digital translation of a book in Hungarian that I have tried recipes from before. Here is the book reference:
The Prince of Transylvania’s court cookbook
From the 16th century
THE SCIENCE OF COOKING
You can find a copy of it here:
The recipes I have tried are here: Prince of Transylvania's court cookbook
Before I get started, I want to say that reading this book and considering how I would redact the recipes is quite a joy. Some look straightforward and some are intriguing and some make me wonder what I'm supposed to do. Parsing through these categories inspires me to think, create, and experiment, all of which are activities I love to do. I am so glad I get to do this.
Today I picked recipe number 175, found on page 40.
Don’t boil the water to be as hot as for the old geese; then remove the feathers, scorch it, wash it, cut the animal’s nails; put its gizzards into another clean water pot; then put it into another pot, and keep it there until you cook it. When cooking it, stitch it and add some salt; while you’re cooking it, make some sauce. Do it like so. Take a very good wine or mead, we use wine in Transylvania. Add some honey to the wine so that it will be sweet, break some juniper berries; add some currants, saffron, but don’t add black pepper. Chop a loaf of white bread into cubes, fry it in butter, but don’t burn it; add some spices and ginger. Put equal amounts of sugar, cinnamon and ginger into it. When serving it, put the fried bread into the sauce. Slice the capon and put it into the plate. Add some spices. Serve it when hot. Do the same with a fat hen.
Fortunately I don't have to deal with preparing a live chicken for cooking (although I have done that in my ancient past). The focus of this recipe is really the sauce and that is what my redaction addresses.
So for my "fat hen", I simply rinsed and dried it, then put it in my Dutch oven and sprinkled it with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. It baked, covered, in a 400 degree F oven for about 1 hour, where the last ten minutes had the lid off to allow it to brown a little. The result was tender and moist, and perfectly ready for serving.
2 cups white wine (I used chardonnay)
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 tablespoon juniper berries
5 threads saffron
2 tablespoons raisins or currants (I used raisins)
about 6 ounces white bread (I used sourdough), crusts removed
1/2 tablespoon each of cinnamon, ginger, and sugar (*see note below)
butter for frying (I used about 1/2 of a stick or 1/8 of a pound)
more raisins or currants for garnish (I used currants)
First I crushed the juniper berries in the mortar. I decided I didn't want finely crushed particles, but I did work them until there were small bits with just a few larger ones.
This is a two-part sauce.
I put the wine, juniper berries, raisins, honey, and saffron into a pan over a very low heat. I stirred them to mix and then put the lid on the pan.
After about 10 minutes, the liquid was simmering slowly. I let it simmer for a few minutes and then turned the heat off.
While that was sitting, I cubed the bread into about 1/2 inch pieces and mixed the equal parts of cinnamon, ginger, and sugar in a small bowl.
I decided to fry the bread cubes in small batches, adding butter as I needed it, and stirring them often so they wouldn't burn. It worked well to add butter twice: once at the beginning just before I added the cubes, and then again about half way through, when the pan started looking dry.
|Partly toasted and almost ready for more butter|
|Toasted and ready to leave the pan|
|Tossing to distribute the spice mixture|
When the hen was about 10 minutes from being cooked, I reheated the wine mixture, again over very low heat. I wanted it steaming hot and not really simmering. Letting it wait while the hen cooked was a good idea: the raisins and juniper berries were much softer and the flavors had infused the wine. I turned off the heat before adding the bread cubes.
|The second heating|
As I expected, the bread cubes soaked up the wine mixture. After some stirring and letting the sauce sit while I carved the hen, there was very little liquid in the sauce. I felt I had achieved the goal of the recipe.
I chose to use just the breast meat. Once it was sliced and on the serving dish, I sprinkled it with the cinnamon-ginger spice mixture.
Then I spooned the sauce over the meat and garnished it with currants.
I served it with a tossed green salad and warm bread.
First off, let me say that it was very, very good. The sauce was moist and flavorful; I would liken its texture to a bread stuffing that was very wet. However it was not runny, which made it easy to eat and to spread across the meat as I was eating it.
My guest taster and I agreed that there were layers of flavor that you "tunneled" your way through as you were eating it. If I focused, I could tasted the saffron, but mostly it was a background flavor. I liked how the cinnamon and ginger worked together, making the sauce very complex in its flavor range.
I was glad, too, that I sprinkled the meat with as much spice mixture as I did. I think it increased the flavor levels without making the spice levels of the sauce overwhelming.
Despite the honey and sugar, the sauce wasn't sweet. I would be fine with it being sweeter, but I knew in advance that my guest taster would not appreciate that, so I held back on the honey. As it was, he kept thinking I had put apples in the sauce until I told him about the honey. (Personally, I think sauteed apples would be a good addition.)
The butter in which the bread was fried became part of the sauce, lending a richness and a satisfying mouthfeel that was welcomed.
We differed in opinion only on one aspect of the sauce: its bitterness level. It was not so bitter as to put me off -- I had no problem eating it! -- but it was almost that bitter. I couldn't decide if it was from the dry white wine or the juniper berries. I decided that if I made this again, I would use fewer berries, maybe 1/2 teaspoon before crushing them. He actually loved the bitterness and was glad it was there. This is truly a matter of personal taste.
So success! We enjoyed the meal and discussing all the flavors in the sauce. I would make it again and be willing to serve it to guests.
*One note: I could have done with less of this spice mixture as I had a lot left over. I would probably use 1 teaspoon each instead of 1/2 tablespoon.